July 14, 2018 was the date when the osteochondral defect in my right ankle decided that it would hide no more and instead would scream at me very loudly for weeks and weeks until my surgeon cut the whole thing out of the bone.
Today is June 14, 2019, and I am (finally) ready to return to running in the traditional sense. Early next week, I will climb onto a treadmill and will start some tentative interval work. This has been an exceedingly long, and very frustrating, eleven months. I am happy it is almost over.
I have spent the past five weeks “running” twice a week on this fancypants AlterG anti-gravity treadmill thing. The AlterG, as their marketing materials will readily tell you, was developed by NASA to aid astronauts in an exercise routine at zero gravity. I don’t think the device ever, ahem, took off, so now physical therapy outfits rent time on it for a dollar minute (or so). Running has become rocket science.
In my case, I had to begin my running at 50% body weight, which the AlterG accomplished by virtue of tugging upward on this bizarre spandex apron contraption that I had to squeeze into. There’s some inflating of some strange bubble enclosure around the lower body, and then up, up, and away I would go, experiencing a feeling that was something like sitting astride a taut bungee cord that was being yanked firmly and forcefully against my crotch.
I did not love this.
Every week for five weeks, I would put down 10% additional weight. Once I got to 70%, the crotch suspension started decreasing in severity, but the feeling of running became much splashier. My strides were natural, and I was landing with more force, but the slightly slackened bungee crotch was constantly trying to yank my torso into a kind of neutral stance, so I felt like I was sliding all over the treadmill and was in danger of spraining my ankle, which would be about par for the course for me.
That didn’t happen, thankfully.
But still, I did not love this.
Yesterday, as I completed my final run at 90% body weight, I couldn’t help but wonder, in my endlessly grouchy state, how on Earth—or how in space?—this exceedingly goofy device could be so precisely calibrated that there was an exact 10% differential in my body weight. Was I really sparing my ankle any significant impact? Couldn’t I just be on a treadmill? Is any of this doing anything?
I have spent, literally, thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours on PT at this point. (The cost of healthcare in this country is stupid.) I have been stretched and pulled and tugged. I have balanced and bent. I have walked on my toes. I have walked on my heels. I have “reeducated” my muscles (they’ve been on a bender, apparently). I have stood on half-moon bouncy balls with my eyes closed. I have hopped. I have jumped. I have rotated my ankle this way. I have rotated it that way. I have iced it, elevated it, and compressed it. I have wrapped green nylon straps around it to practice dorsiflexion. I have wrapped blue nylon straps around it to practice dorsiflexion. I have wrapped orange nylon straps around it to practice dorsiflexion. I have wrapped maroon nylon straps around it to practice dorsiflexion.
I have jogged on a treadmill with a space-age spandex apron at 50% gravity.
This shit better work.
—June 14, 2019